Thursday, February 15, 2007


Back in 2005, I mentioned, with some excitement, the advent of MTV Desi, a channel geared to NRIs and Second Generation South Asian American youth. Now there are news reports that MTV Desi is getting axed, along with its sister diasporic channels MTV Chi and MTV K, as Viacom is undergoing a restructuring. Hollywood Reporter has an MTV executive making the following statement:

"Unfortunately, the premium distribution model for MTV World proved more challenging than we anticipated in this competitive environment," the company said. "As a result, MTV has decided to shut down its linear MTV World operation. However, we remain steadfast in superserving multicultural youth, and we are continuing to investigate ways to integrate the MTV Desi, Chi and K brands online and on our other screens." (link)

Well, duh, if it's only available on premium channels on from one Satellite TV company (DirecTV), you can bet people aren't about to go out of their way to get it. I'm actually the only person I know who subscribes to the channel -- and it's only because my in-laws came to stay with us for a few months, and the channel came packaged with the channels they really wanted -- Star One, Star Plus, Star News, and NDTV. Still, I've actually spent some hours watching the channel, so it might be worth doing a mini-elegy.

First, the positive. The best thing I ever saw on MTV Desi was the following inspired rant by Parag Khanna.

There are some statements he makes that miss the mark (India isn't the poorest country in the world by the indices I've seen), but I appreciate the energy. Instead of being the embarrassed, cautious ABCD -- do we really know enough about India to comment on corruption? shouldn't we stay "positive"? -- he's taking a strong stance. (Parag Khanna might make a good blogger.) If MTV Desi is really dead, it's too bad we'll get less stuff like this.

But it should also be admitted that the channel currently plays far too much repetitious programming. The repetition factor can be especially bad when the old programs are tied in with a particular holiday -- as of last week, you would still see the occasional VJ wishing you a "Happy Diwali!" That's pretty lame, considering it's February.

Second, while I love having a TV channel that plays both cool Bollywood and Bhangra tracks and bands like Jahcoozi and M.I.A., far too many videos on the regular playlist are crass booty-shaking exploitation. I have a kid at home now, and while he's too young to understand why there are all these scantily clad blond women shaking their hips while a brown guy lip syncs about his adoration of "Paisa," it's still faintly embarrassing. In an ideal world, I would take the Kailash Khers and the sweet A.R. Rahman songs, and leave the Bollytrash out.

Third, MTV Desi has some pretty lame skits. The "F*#@ing with Eames" skit never made much sense to me -- why is it Desi? Who cares? The parody "Deep Throat" commercial was funnier, and it's too bad Viacom has had it pulled from Youtube.

Most of the music videos one finds on MTV Desi can readily be found on Youtube. And they aren't likely to be pulled for copyright reasons, since most of them derive either from Indie bands like the brilliant King Khan and BBQ Show, who actually want the potential for free publicity online, or Indian music companies, who simply haven't been putting very much effort into that sort of thing.

So really, at the current moment there isn't truly a need for a channel like MTV Desi, especially if you have to pay for something a dedicated blogger/video podcaster could do in her basement for free. Most of the music content could be aggregated, and original content (like the Parag Khanna rant above) could be generated by enterprising college students with video cameras, again for free.

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